Monday, November 19, 2007

Black Credit Check

By Leighann Lord, © 2007

"What do you want me to say about you?" This is what any decent MC will ask before bringing you up on stage. A good MC will ask this even if they already know you. It gives you the chance to say how you want to be introduced to the audience. A very good MC, by the way, is one who not only asks, but remembers and does it.

Some comics don't care how they're introduced. They tell the MC, "Just say anything." I applaud their bravery. There are very few MCs I would trust to do this. Presentation is key and those few seconds when the microphone passes from MC to Comic are too precious to waste recouping from an off-color-meant-to-be-funny-but-not intro from an incompetent MC.

Another version of this is, "What are your credits?" Credits mean everything and nothing. They look and sound good on the resume, but you've still gotta do the job. I know comics who don't use credits, claiming the audience doesn't care. Saturday night, third show, drinking since noon? No, they probably don't care. But more often then not I've seen people's ears perk up, and their attention become focused, when they hear a show mentioned that they know and like.

Credits matter very much to a comedy club. It's their way of advertising that they have the best talent. "You've seen them on TV, now see them here!" When an audience member calls to make a reservation they usually ask, "Who's going to be on the show?" At a showcase club this could be 10 comics who, while great, are not household names yet. The club will then name the comics and their credits. The club is banking that even if the caller doesn't know the comic, they will recognize the name of the TV show.

Unlike an MC, a club does not ask a comic how he or she would like to be introduced or in this case, advertised to the public. Does that matter? I didn't think so until I learned that a local club was peddling me to prospective audience members as "... Leighann Lord from 'Def Comedy Jam'...." While it's true that I did appear on "Def Comedy All Star Jam" back 1996, I was perplexed as to why a comedy club would use a credit that was over 10 years old, especially when I have so many more recent ones.

Besides being true, credits should also be current. If you're introduced with a show that's no longer on the air it makes you sound old and dated. As great as it was in it's day, "Evening at the Improv" doesn't carry quite the same cache it once did. However, it's not just that the "Def Jam" credit is old, but I believe the club deliberately chose to use it because it does something my other credits do not: label me as a Black Comic.

Part of me understands. It's all about marketing. Admirably, some clubs want their line up to reflect the diversity of their audience and they do this using the United Colors of Benetton Formula: one of everything. However it's not quite politically correct to say, "Hey, we've got Caucasians, an Asian, a Black, and a Chic." And so I end up being "... Leighann Lord from 'Def Comedy Jam.'"

I should know better than to take this personally; but there are times when I'm more than a little hurt, pissed and perturbed that after 15 years in the business, somebody thinks "Black Comic" is the only label that fits me. But from a pure business stand point it's also a tad misleading.

"Def Jam" is not just the title of a TV show, but it has evolved into describing a genre of comedy. In the main, introducing or advertising a comic with the "Def Jam" credit tells the audience they are going to see some rough and raunchy, urban comedy. Not exactly my style. For the record the show that would have best described me was the wonderful but sadly short lived "Comic Justice." Hosted by AJ Jamal it featured Black comics who were hip, smart and I dare say cerebral.

Selfishly I wish the show had survived so I had a chance to do it. I also believe the show would have been a lovely counter balance to "Def Jam." It would have given us a little variety and diversity. The Black Community is not monolithic and yet that is how we're often represented. We are "Good Times", "The Cosby Show" and everything in between and beyond.

I guess I should just be grateful that the credit the club used for me was at least accurate. Some have no qualms about engaging in wholesale fabrication. Much like inattentive MCs who don't bother asking for my credits and just assume I've been on BET. Funny, they never assume I've been on the "Tonight Show" or "Letterman." I guess that's not part of the marketing plan.

Sometimes I think my husband has the right idea. When MC's ask him, "What do you want me to say about you?" He says, "Next act, very funny." And would you believe they still mess it up?

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